Échappe! Changement! Échappe! Glissade! Repeat!” Grant Spencer, the instructor of the Advanced Ballet IV class at Dance Connection Palo Alto, calls out the steps as six ballerinas fall in line. They jump and twirl to the beat of the music, their arms painting ribbons in the air.
While most students at Palo Alto High School are at home doing schoolwork or out with their friends on the weekend, those who are involved in ballet spend hours a day training in the studio. Whether they intend to pursue dance professionally or participate just for fun, most Paly dancers have come to love dance as a vehicle of expression and see their studio community as a second family.
It has a degree of beauty, a degree of mastery that I haven’t seen in any other sport Senior Isabel Nicholson
Senior Isabel Nicholson is one of the few Palo Alto High School students who intends to pursue dance professionally. When she started dance at two years old, it was a fun after school activity. When she turned 11, however, she decided it would be her career. For Nicholson, ballet was the epitome of self-expression and would develop into a lifelong passion.
“I’m passionate about it [ballet] because it has a degree of beauty, a degree of mastery that I haven’t seen in any other sport,” Nicholson says. “I’ve played the piano from a young age and my family is a very musical family, so ballet is also a way for me to interact with music and, as cheesy as this may sound, become a part of it.”
Since then, Nicholson has trained at five different ballet studios, focusing on traditional Russian ballet technique. Currently, she trains at the City Ballet in San Francisco with the goal of joining a ballet company after graduating high school.
Nicholson’s weekends are full of practice and lessons. If she joins a company, she will spend all of her days working and perfecting new pieces until she retires.
For many dancers, like junior Allison Wu, however, dance is simply a beloved extracurricular. Wu has been dancing at Dance Connection since she was four years old, and has continued taking classes through high school.
“I like the way I can move with my body instead of expressing myself with words,” Wu says. “You can hit [movements] stronger or softly and you can express different dynamics through your movements. It’s an art form like painting or drawing where you can express your feelings.”
I like the way I can move with my body instead of expressing myself with words Junior Allison Wu
Wu is also drawn to dance because of the cherished sense of community at her studio, especially on her dance team. After 11 years of dancing, she is finally dancing on the Senior Team — the highest level dance team at her studio.
“I’m on the Senior Team and we’re really close because we’ve danced together since we were four basically, so we know each other really well,” Wu says. “We went from Mini Team, to Teen Team, to Junior Team, to Senior Team.”
During her time at Dance Connection, Wu has grown from being one of the little girls in their pink leotards to an advanced and serious dancer performing in the highest level of dance. As part of a community of dancers, Wu has felt her place in the “studio family” shift greatly over the years.
“We have to be leaders in our dance studio because we have to lead the little ones and show them how to grow as role models,” Wu says. “When I was little, I used to watch the older kids and be like ‘Wow, they’re such good role models and they’re super good leaders’ but then when I grew older I kind of wanted to be like them.”
Nicholson has also been able to experience the dance community, although slightly differently from Wu. Moving between studios, she has developed friendships with all kinds of diverse people from many different places.
“I’ve met people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, so you get to know a lot of people who are very different from you,” Nicholson says. “But at the same time you all have this passion and this love for dance that unites everyone.”